The Public Square
(May 1999)

Richard John Neuhaus

Copyright (c) 1999 First Things 93 (May 1999): 77-95.

November 1916

November 1916 is the second big volume of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s historical epic The Red Wheel, recounting in relentless detail the events leading up to the Bolshevik takeover in 1917 (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1,014 pp., $35). It is a strange and engrossing work, written in a manner that many have compared to Tolstoy: stories within stories, huge chunks of raw material gleaned from the newspapers and agitprop pamphlets of the time, seemingly endless speeches by would–be rulers in the doomed Duma, and all against the background of a weak and ineffectual Tsar dominated by his wife and "our Friend," Rasputin, with Lenin seething and scheming in Switzerland, waiting for his time to come round at last. One reads November 1916 in the eerie awareness of what is to come, which makes all the more pitiful and ludicrous the liberal posturing of the politicians and the utopian dreams of the revolutionary terrorists, each of whom has a plan for using the bloody war with Germany to realize his ambitions.

There are moments of powerful insight and eloquence. For instance, Sanya, a second lieutenant at the front, challenges a chaplain on how he squares the madness of war with the command to love your neighbor. Father Severyan responds, "For a priest too, life as it is must be our field of action. . . . At no time has the world been without war. Not in seven or ten or twenty thousand years. Neither the wisest of leaders, nor the noblest of kings, nor yet the Church—none of them has been able to stop it. And don’t succumb to the facile belief that wars will be stopped by hotheaded socialists. Or that rational and just wars can be sorted out from the rest. There will always be thousands of thousands to whom even such a war will be senseless and unjustified. Quite simply, no state can live without war, that is one of the state’s essential functions. War is the price we pay for living in a state. . . . In ordinary life thousands of bad impulses, from a thousand foci of evil, move chaotically, randomly, against the vulnerable. The state is called upon to check these impulses—but it generates others of its own, still more powerful, and this time one–directional. At times it throws them all in a single direction—and that is war. So then, the dilemma of peace versus war is a superficial dilemma for superficial minds. ‘We only have to stop making war and we shall have peace.’ No! The Christian prayer says ‘peace on earth and goodwill among men.’ That is when true peace will arrive: when there is goodwill among men. Otherwise even without war men will go on strangling, poisoning, starving, stabbing, and burning each other, trampling each other underfoot and spitting in each other’s faces. . . . War is not the vilest form of evil, not the most evil of evils. An unjust trial, for instance, that scalds the outraged heart, is viler. Or murder for gain, when the solitary murderer fully understands the implications of what he means to do and all that the victim will suffer at the moment of the crime. Or the ordeal at the hands of a torturer. When you can neither cry out nor fight back nor attempt to defend yourself. Or treachery on the part of someone you trusted. Or mistreatment of widows or orphans. All these things are spiritually dirtier and more terrible than war."

Such passages of spiritual and moral reflection are the exception in November 1916. More typically it is a story of people confusedly crying out, fighting back, and attempting to defend themselves against circumstances they little understand. Most pathetic, and dangerous, are those who think they do understand and possess a remedy for what is going so ghastly wrong. The book includes subplots of love stories and conspiracies, along with interludes of a peasant life marked by a spiritual wisdom and uncomplicated human decency that the sophisticated have discarded with contempt. It is a tale of the brightest and the best hurling themselves and their world headlong toward the abyss of October 1917 in a social and political climate suffused with the suspicion that blind fate is in charge, and blind fate is not kindly disposed toward Russia or the world.

Solzhenitsyn is one of the great figures of the century now coming to an end. His role is aptly described as prophetic. In The Gulag Archipelago and other writings he entrenched a standard by which even the most deluded of the deluded could no longer deny the evil of the evil empire. He sometimes took the West to task for its intellectual and spiritual bankruptcy, and was, in return, much castigated as a tiresome moralist and "Slavophile" by our intellectuals, who would have fit very well in the Duma of 1916. November 1916 is anything but a light read. It is frequently disjointed, forcing one to infer connections that are far from evident. To take it on is a project. The author gathers up all the people, causes, conflicts, confusions, hopes, and delusions of a few weeks of history and dumps them into the reader’s lap. As though to say: "Here. You must think hard about this. This is the way it was just before the last time a great people went to hell."

The Clinton Era, At Home and Abroad

As of this writing, American soldiers have not been coming back in body bags, and therefore little attention is paid. But day by day one reads the dreary accounts of the continuing dismemberment of the former Yugoslavia. The U.S. is on the side of the Kosovars who want to break away from Serbia and establish an independent state. What are we doing there? The Kosovars are ethnic Albanians and mainly Muslim; the Serbs are Orthodox Christians. In Russia they ask why U.S. force is once again on the side of the Muslims against the Christians. Apparently it is not polite to ask that question here. Kosovo is the symbolic heartland of Serbia, and Serbs are not willing to surrender lands that have been their ancestral homes for many centuries.

At the conference table, Secretary Albright tells the Serb negotiators that they must agree to U.S. terms by two o’clock in the afternoon or we will bomb their homeland. What kind of negotiating ploy is this? Albright’s supporters call for "sustained air strikes against the Serbian military infrastructure." That sounds neat, but in this kind of civil imbroglio lines between civilian and military are less than clear. Are we going to bomb nonmilitary targets and kill innocent civilians, or is it the case that no Serbs are innocent? If the Serbs are aggressing in Kosovo—which is not clear—the usual thing would be to send in troops to drive them out. But that would put U.S. soldiers at risk, which is unacceptable because it might raise domestic questions about our policy in the Balkans, if there is a policy. As the world’s only superpower, we are beginning to look very much like a high–tech bully imposing our will on the cheap.

The piecemeal statements of the Administration lead some to conclude that the purpose of the exercise is to give NATO something to do, and to justify our massive military presence in Europe. But if the Albanian rebels have a moral right to Kosovo, maybe the large number of ethnic Albanians in neighboring Macedonia also have a right to a separate state. For that matter, a good many Albanians apparently want to overthrow the fragile government of Albania itself. Is it the strategic and moral purpose of the U.S. to assist unhappy ethnic groups to dismember sovereign states? If so, why not take up the cause of the Kurds? Their claims are more persuasive than those of the Kosovars. There are millions of Kurds in Turkey, Syria, Iran, and Iraq. After World War I the great powers promised them an independent state; in our unpleasantness with Iraq we encouraged them to rebel, and then betrayed them. Maybe we should commit ourselves to carving out a country for them, and start some more wars, providing target practice for our smart bombs.

One does not wish to sound cynical, but robust skepticism is in order. From Somalia to Haiti to Rwanda to Bosnia to Kosovo, this Administration has not communicated any believable policy or principle for the use of U.S. power. That is in addition to its apparent collusion in military–related trade with potential enemies such as China. A President who has been impeached and is now credibly accused of being, among other things, a rapist is in no position to engage the nation in a serious reflection about anything. As of this writing, most Americans seem not to be unduly bothered. Let the good times roll. I do not think this will last. The enormity of this President’s corruption and crimes will finally sink in and trigger the long–delayed outrage—the absence of which to date has puzzled so many thoughtful people. But maybe not. Maybe the turning point will come with the arrival of the body bags from another misbegotten foreign venture. Or maybe we will simply muddle through the Clinton era, which our children will look back upon as a low, dishonest, and aberrant period in American life, unless theirs is lower, more dishonest, and no longer aberrant.

(Since the above was written a month ago, the U.S.–NATO forces have been bombing and bombing, with, despite the pleas of John Paul II and others, no surcease for the three most holy days of the Christian year. Remember Iraq and the keen sensitivity to Ramadan? But that’s hardly the most important thing. The effect of the bombing to date is to give Milosevic cover in driving out the Kosovars, which is precisely what the bombing was supposed to prevent. So what is to be done now? Bounce the rubble of Belgrade, with massive civilian casualties? Withdraw under the guise of Milosevic having signed yet another peace agreement? That would be almost as humiliating for the U.S. as its embarking on this wrongheaded policy. Or, although everyone denies it, sending in ground forces? To do what? Bring hundreds of thousands of refugees back to their homes that have been destroyed during the bombing? To rebuild Kosovo and then continue to insist upon its independence? That’s what started the fighting in the first place. It is said by some that the war aim must be the removal of Milosevic, as though that would remove six hundred years of the passionately conflicted history of Serbia and the Balkans. As things stand as of Easter Monday, one must reluctantly conclude that this action of the U.S. and NATO appears not to meet even one of the classical moral criteria for justified warfare except, just possibly, that it was undertaken by legitimate, although grievously misguided, authority.)

The Evangelical Mind, Again

The first thing to be said about the evangelical mind, wrote Mark Noll in his much discussed The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, "is that there is not much of an evangelical mind." In recent years, however, that has changed dramatically, according to James C. Turner, writing in the Catholic magazine Commonweal. He cites evangelical intellectuals such as George Marsden, Nathan Hatch, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Alvin Plantinga, Richard Mouw, and, of course, Mark Noll. Turner doesn’t make a point of it, but a good deal of this evangelical ferment is happening at Notre Dame, where Turner is director of the Erasmus Institute. He does lift up the importance of Books and Culture, a fine publication that first appeared in 1995, and aims to be among evangelicals what the New York Review of Books is in the general culture. And he lifts up the singular role of Calvin College in gestating and nurturing an intellectual renascence in an evangelical world that has typically oscillated between cool and hostile toward the life of the mind.

Thinking about what is happening among evangelicals, Turner writes, "Roman Catholics of a certain age will be inclined to draw an analogy to the experience of American Catholic intellectuals in the wake of the Second Vatican Council." Maybe, although more recent studies tend to counter the stereotype of anti–intellectualism in the "ghetto of pre–Vatican II Catholicism." In thinking about the public order, notes Turner, Calvin College has drawn heavily on the legacy of the Dutch politician Abraham Kuyper (1837–1920), but he agrees with Mark Noll’s observation that recent evangelical political thinkers have also borrowed "from the Anabaptist heritage, from the mainline Protestantism of Reinhold Niebuhr, or from the neoconservative Catholicism of Richard John Neuhaus, Michael Novak, and George Weigel." Turner shares a widespread skepticism about whether the evangelical thinkers will make much of an impact on the large and multifarious worlds of evangelicalism, but of this he is more certain: "That [they have] made, and will continue to make, a substantial mark on American academic life seems indisputable, especially in history, philosophy, and, more recently, sociology. But the overall effect will likely be to fortify other, nonevangelical Christian approaches to scholarship, rather than to generate an original, distinctively evangelical life of the mind." And perhaps that is the way it should be.

Appearing about the same time as Turner’s article is a cover story in Christianity Today celebrating "The New Theologians" (Kevin Vanhoozer, N. T. Wright, Richard Hays, Ellen Charry, Miroslav Volf). CT exults in the fact that such figures, who are not ashamed to be called evangelicals, are teaching at universities such as Yale and Duke where the liberals—in antithesis to whom evangelicals define themselves—once held undisputed sway. The CT message is, partly, that we now have some of "our" people planted behind the enemy lines and, partly, that a few members of the
C team are playing with the A team. The distinctly defensive tone is perhaps to be expected in the mainline (if one may be permitted the term) publication of evangelicals who are self–consciously outsiders, in contrast to Turner’s appreciation offered from a position of greater cultural confidence.

But, apart from a touch of hyperbole in both articles, they give reason to believe that the time is in sight when it will not be accurate to say that "there is not much of an evangelical mind." Then comes along evangelical sociologist James Davison Hunter of the University of Virginia to rain on the party. The question he has been asking in a number of scholarly books is: "Maybe so. But will they then still be evangelicals?" That’s a subject for another day.

Everything Will Work Out Just Fine

Those were heady days, following the Second Vatican Council. Catholics had lived in a world apart, and suddenly everything was open to them. Prior to the Council, Catholic higher education had inculcated a powerful Catholic identity, steeped in what some called neo–Thomistic indoctrination. "What would fill that need now?" asks Neil Coughlan, who is reviewing in Commonweal James Burtchaell’s The Dying of the Light: The Disengagement of Colleges and Universities from Their Christian Churches (Eerdmans). "We students and liberal faculty had our answers," Coughlan continues. "The pervasive ‘Catholic atmosphere’ of the colleges, the confidence of our march out of our precincts into American national life, these would foster Catholic faith and intellectualism as effectively as ever did a drilling in apologetics and the Catholic catechism. The world itself, we rather suddenly saw, was not an ungodly other—Christ’s sacrifice had saved it, too. It was instinct with grace. Incarnationalism, we called it. Manicheanism was the philosophy of the ghetto. Everything would work out just fine."

But of course it didn’t. Many Catholic colleges and universities lost their way, following the pattern so persuasively analyzed by Burtchaell. Coughlan’s is a generally sympathetic review of The Dying of the Light, until he gets to the end, when he suddenly turns and attacks Burtchaell for being "coy" about what ought now to be done. He goes back to a two–part essay by Burtchaell in First Things (April and May 1991) where he set forth a number of positive proposals that Coughlan does not like. Were Burtchaell’s proposals followed, he suggests, Catholic schools would not be "centers of excellence" but "backwaters, curious reminders of a conservative critique of the 1990s American Catholic Church and of some aggressively secularizing forces in American society." Coughlan proposes present–day Notre Dame as the solution to the problems described by Burtchaell, and wonders what Burtchaell thinks of that institution where, he notes, Burtchaell once taught.

Burtchaell not only taught at Notre Dame, he was the Provost, and was considered by many to be the logical successor as president to Father Theodore Hesburgh. He knows Notre Dame well, and has been decorously silent about what he thinks of it. It is passing strange that anyone should think Burtchaell, who has given so many years in the service of academic excellence, is advocating a return to the "ghetto." What most particularly alarms Coughlan is Burtchaell’s First Things proposal that colleges and universities should be integrated into the life of the Church and share in its apostolic mission. That, of course, is also the proposal of the apostolic constitution on Catholic higher education, Ex Corde Ecclesiae (From the Heart of the Church), which Coughlan does not mention. To suggest that such a change would be a return to the ghetto is to say something not so much about higher education as about the Catholic Church. It at least edges up to the familiar and derisive claim that "Catholic university" is an oxymoron. After acknowledging the force of Burtchaell’s diagnosis of the illness, Coughlan appears to draw back from the remedy, saying again as he reports he said so many years ago, "Everything will work out just fine."

The Perils of Civility

I’ve spent a lot of energy over the years defending civility as a virtue. Mainly against people who think civility is a synonym for wimpishness. I’m therefore in principled sympathy with an initiative of the Chicago–based Park Ridge Center, funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts. The center brought together twenty–nine participants to discuss religion and public life, Martin E. Marty of the University of Chicago presiding. One stated purpose of the meeting was to advance the position that religion should not be excluded from the public square. They’ll get no argument here. But then we come to what is meant by civility. The press release headlines: "Dogmatism or Discussion: Religious Groups Meet to Explore Framework for Civil Coexistence." Dogmatism or discussion? An alternative way of putting the matter is, Dogma or discussionism? And one might have thought that "coexistence" was put to rest when everybody finally agreed that the evil empire was evil after all.

The convenors should not be held responsible for press releases, but the press release does seem to reflect the event. The convenors are responsible, presumably, for the list of participants. If we measure left and right by support for or opposition to abortion and Bill Clinton, which is a reasonable measure in this case, twelve of the groups represented are very far left indeed—including Catholics for a Free Choice, Human Rights Campaign (a leading gay rights organization), People for the American Way, AIDS National Interfaith Network, and Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. Four are identifiably conservative, meaning moderately to strongly right of center—Heritage Foundation, Ethics and Public Policy Center, Christian Coalition, and Family Research Council. The other groups are centrist, as in liberal. Four out of twenty–nine does give the edge to the dogma of discussionism, with liberal dogma redefined as discussion. This is civility as in "Everybody shut up except us!"

Not surprisingly, there was no common statement from the meeting, but Park Ridge has subsequently issued a handsomely printed booklet, "Religion and Public Discourse: Principles and Guidelines for Religious Participants." Among the principles and guidelines are these: "Welcome the diversity of beliefs and opinions," "Tell stories," "Act on the basis of relative and partial agreements," "Take steps to assure that the conversation moves beyond conflict or stalemate," "Recognize that religious traditions are multivocal," and so forth. There is much that is good and wise in the booklet but, all in all, it is the kind of thing that gives civility a bad name among people who care about truth. Professor Marty has correctly said that in our public discourse we should not have to choose between thugs and wimps. A caution is also in order about thugs disguised as wimps.

On some questions, to agree to disagree is to decide the disagreement. To agree to disagree on abortion, for instance, is to agree that people should be permitted to kill their children if they want to. Among the Park Ridge principles is this, "Recognize civil discourse as a process." Well, yes, but a process in the service of persuasion. Otherwise, civility is but liberal legerdemain for the sly stifling of those with whom you disagree. Chesterton said that the problem with a quarrel is that it interrupts a good—and, I would add, necessary—argument. The same might be said of civility as construed by the Park Ridge Center’s "Religion and Public Discourse."

Steering But Not Rowing

Back in 1975 when Peter Berger and I wrote To Empower People, the little book that is credited (or blamed) for launching the now widespread interest in the role of "mediating institutions" in civil society, we proposed a "minimal proposition" and a "maximal proposition." The minimal proposition is that government should get off the backs and out of the way of mediating institutions—family, church, voluntary associations, etc.—and let them do their vital work as they best know how. The maximal proposition is that, in some limited circumstances, government might use mediating institutions to achieve its public purposes. Peter and I were very cautious about the maximal proposition, warning that it could lead to state co–optation and weakening of mediating institutions. This continues to be a legitimate concern, and not only in the U.S.

The mediating institutions gospel has also gained adherents in Canada, and at an Ottawa meeting of the Canadian Centre of Philanthropy there was discussion of an announcement that provincial governments are preparing to "give" hundreds of millions of dollars to not–for–profit groups that address sundry social problems. Sonia Arrison, writing in the remarkable new Canadian paper, National Post, is more than a little skeptical. "It’s at this point the dilemma for charities becomes clear, and in my opinion [one participant] was remarkably diplomatic. He said, ‘the government still wants to steer the programs, but it doesn’t want to row.’ That is, officials want to control the programs, but they want some other group to deal with the messy details of delivering them on a low budget. This leaves charities in a position where governments are asking them to deliver programs the government will both completely finance and direct. Basically, charities are being asked to become government employees—albeit on a contractual basis. The government will come up with the programs, and the charities will do what they are told. Now, you might think this scenario would be revolting to most staff members of Canadian charities, but when I looked around at the faces in the room, it was clear some charitable groups are so desperate for funds they would prefer the problem of government control to the grind of fundraising. One woman even got up and expressed this sentiment."

Some charities may think the government link a great deal, but Ms. Arrison suggests they think again: "By accepting responsibility for a program dictated by government agencies, charities will slide down a slippery slope with the end result being they will be regarded as civil servants—not as part of a vibrant community that voluntarily strengthens civil society. This, in turn, will lead to a loss of donors and volunteers, the lifeblood of any charity. For who will volunteer to work for the government? And who will make a donation to a government program given we all pay into government programs and have witnessed their dismal results?"

Her conclusion is nothing if not definite: "It means they are no longer charities. If charities allow themselves to be used as ‘extra civil servants’ by governments, they will signal the death of their organizations, resulting in an unfortunate loss for many communities. My advice to charities looking for an easier route to increasing their funds would be to ask the government to reduce taxes so members of the communities in which these charities operate will have the disposable income to support them."

Ms. Arrison may overstate the case against cooperation between charities and government, but the dangers are real. That is one reason why in education, for instance, vouchers are to be preferred to charter schools and other devices that invite extensive government regulation and co–optation. There is an old maxim that the Queen’s command follows the Queen’s pence. In this country, many religiously connected voluntary organizations are already questionably voluntary, so overwhelmingly dependent are they upon government funds. Catholic Charities USA and some overseas development groups are cases in point. Those who row must also have the main say in steering. Which means that maximal distance must be kept between the government that gives the dollar and the decision about how the dollar is used. Maximal distance is essential in guarding against the dangers of what, in 1975, we called the maximal proposition.

Poles and Jews

Some years ago, when the question of religious symbols at Auschwitz had flared once again, an Israeli Prime Minister remarked that Poles "imbibed anti–Semitism with their mothers’ milk." That was deeply and understandably resented by the people of Poland, yet the resentment was joined to an acknowledgment that the charge was not without some basis in reality. Now a large (365 pages) special issue of the journal Wiez (which means "Bond") has collected articles that have appeared in its pages over the last several decades. The collection is titled "Under One Heaven: Poles and Jews." In a 1988 essay, written before the final liberation from communism, Krystyna Kersten and Jerzy Szapiro reflect on some of the complexities of a tortured relationship.

We must remember that the Polish memory after the war was dominated by an awareness of Polish sacrifices and the dramatic history of the resistance movement. These memories were uncomfortably disturbed by recollections of the general role of passive witnesses to the Shoah. These troubled feelings were often vented in the evocation of the myth of the Jews as bearers of evil—a myth that had inhered in the Christian tradition and had later been grafted onto the ideology of nationalist extremism. During the war, this myth fed on all available arguments, true or confabulated, such as reports about the behavior of national minorities, including the Jews, to the east of the Bug in 1939–1941. After the war, the myth was nourished by the distinctly visible presence of Jews among the authorities, and especially in the security apparatus, or even among the people who supported or accepted painlessly the order imposed by the Communists. The social image of the Jews as internal enemies was therefore strengthened. Now, they appeared in the role of Communist persecutors of the Polish nation—all the more dangerous because they wrapped themselves in Polish national costume.

The time would come when the authorities would be so anxious to utilize social sentiments to lubricate the acceptance of a series of political U–turns that they would turn anti–Semitic prejudices against people of Jewish origin, first within the power structure itself, and later, for many years, against the opposition. The problem of anti–Semitism is given a concrete historical dimension when we remember that its dynamics and context after 1945 were determined to a large degree by the conflicts between the authorities and the Polish populace. This reminds us that the so–called Jewish question in Poland is also a Polish question. It was precisely this political context that exacerbated the vicious circle of mutual prejudices from which many Poles and many Polish Jews never managed to free themselves.

(The special issue of Wiez is available for $14 from P.O. Box 209, PL 00–950, Warszawa, Poland.)

Freedom, License, and the Truth

A teacher of religion at a Baptist college was denied tenure and effectively fired. The stated reason was that she denied the inspiration of Scripture and cast doubt on the divinity on Christ. "Of course it violates academic freedom," she writes to a friend. "Yes, I read the articles you mention in First Things, and the distinction between ‘freedom’ and ‘license’ sounds good, but it finally doesn’t work. It’s fine to say that freedom is not the freedom to do what you want but the freedom to do what you ought, but who is to say what you ought to do? That’s my decision and my decision alone. Academic freedom means saying what you want to say and teaching what you want to teach. I have no objection if you want to call that academic license." It is a view frequently encountered in all our church–related colleges and universities.

Father Charles Curran writes the long entry on "academic freedom" in Richard McBrien’s Encyclopedia of Catholicism. Curran is a dissident Catholic moral theologian who was effectively checked by Cardinal James Hickey of Washington when he tried to impose his understanding of academic freedom on Catholic University. He now teaches at Southern Methodist University. Of the 1990 apostolic constitution, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, Curran writes: "The document theoretically limits academic freedom by truth and the common good, sees local bishops not as external to the college or university but as participants in the institution, and includes canonical provisions for those who teach theology in Catholic higher education." That first formulation is of particular interest: that academic freedom is limited by truth and the common good. What is the alternative: Academic freedom means the freedom to be indifferent to truth and the common good?

Fr. Curran, like our Baptist friend, would likely deny that, claiming that the question is, Who determines what is the truth and the common good? That way of putting the question is very close to Pilate’s "What is truth?" The fact is that Christian schools are established on the premise that the truth is knowable and known—not completely or exhaustively, of course, but insofar as reason is able to discern and God has revealed. Is an institution that says Jesus Christ is the truth less free than an institution that denies, implicitly or explicitly, that any such absolute truth can be known? It depends, it would seem, on whether or not Jesus Christ is the truth. That is the critical distinction between license and freedom. The truth can limit license but it cannot limit freedom. Those who say that the distinction between license and freedom is a distinction without a difference have, in fact, chosen in favor of license.

By their reasoning, the discernment of the truth on which the Christian community established the university in question is trumped by presumably superior criteria of truth, discerned individually. Nobody should deny that the administration of such an institution can be bigoted, narrow–minded, and arrogant in imposing, in the name of Christian truth, truths that are not entailed by Christian truth. Church–related schools, it should be noted, have no monopoly on bigotry, narrow–mindedness, and arrogance. But when this happens in a Christian institution, the argument should be not about "academic freedom" but about the truth. When it is asserted that academic freedom can be limited by the truth, we are no longer talking about freedom but about license.

A teacher may honestly reach a point at which he can no longer subscribe to the truth claims on which the institution is founded. He may even believe he is compelled to oppose those truth claims. Obviously, he is then in an awkward relationship with the institution, and there are a number of ways that can be handled. The one thing he cannot honestly do is to assert that academic freedom requires the institution to abandon its purpose in order to accommodate his loss of faith. That, if they would only listen to themselves more carefully, is what some advocates of academic freedom are asserting in current debates about Christian higher education.

Ex–Friends Among Friends

"He is being not only lionized but loved," I observed in introducing Norman Podhoretz at the Harvard Club to a packed house gathered to celebrate his book, Ex–Friends. As an old friend who hopes never to be an ex–friend, I reminded him of the warning of a first–century Jewish teacher, "Woe to you when all men speak well of you." It has not quite come to that yet, but the master of hackle–raisers who edited Commentary for thirty–five years and earned the middle name of "Controversial" with books such as Making It, Why We Were in Vietnam, and Breaking Ranks has been receiving rave reviews, also from unlikely sources. As I said at the Harvard lunch, Ex–Friends is the story of intellectual friendship and combat that has indelibly marked the culture of which we are all part, and I warmly recommend it. It is also a great read. In a favorable notice in the New York Times Book Review, Richard Brookhiser of National Review has a couple of caveats about Podhoretz’s version of the Family—the group of New York intellectuals who are Podhoretz’s "ex–friends," including Allen Ginsberg, Lionel and Diana Trilling, Lillian Hellman, Hannah Arendt, and Norman Mailer.

Brookhiser writes: "The general failing of Podhoretz’s ex–friends, and of most of the Family, was pride. Sensibility and brains, they believed, gave them access to a realm of arcane and specialized perceptions, which their fellow citizens were too obtuse to share or appreciate. Because they understood Karl Marx and T. S. Eliot and jazz, they were above the common herd. Podhoretz has his own twinges of pride: he writes as if the neoconservatives, those Family members who reacted to the late ’60s by moving right rather than left, supplied Ronald Reagan with everything he needed to think about communism, although Reagan often said that the writer who most influenced him was Whittaker Chambers."

Rick Brookhiser, also a friend, touches upon a delicate nerve. It is not that Podhoretz has twinges of pride, which he would not deny, nor that intellectuals tend to be elitist in the pejorative sense of that term, which nobody can deny. It is, rather, the rivalry between old conservatives, represented by National Review, and neoconservatives represented by, inter alia, Commentary. The rivalry, when it was such, was a remarkably friendly rivalry. Today, when conservative and neoconservative is a distinction without a practical difference, Brookhiser suggests that it should not be forgotten when it comes to telling the history of the conservative ascendancy. "Some of us," he is saying, "were right from the start." And he is right about that, too. Whittaker Chambers, whose Witness is one of the great autobiographies of the century, was, in the eyes of the Family, beyond the pale. Yet a case could be made that he, along with James Burnham and others, was among the first neoconservatives—meaning thinkers of the left who were, in Irving Kristol’s happy phrase, mugged by reality. All were given shelter at National Review by Brookhiser’s mentor Bill Buckley long before Podhoretz broke ranks. All that is true enough.

In my left desk drawer is a book of matches distributed by National Review some years ago. It bears a photo of President Reagan reading NR on Air Force One, and underneath the caption, "I got my job through National Review." That, too, is true. It is hard to imagine the election of Reagan without a conservative movement that is hard to imagine without National Review. I believe it was at the big fortieth anniversary bash that columnist George Will asserted that National Review is, quite simply, the most influential magazine ever published. A case can be made for that. While Reagan got his job through NR, he did his job with the additional and indispensable help of the neocons surrounding publications such as Commentary and the Public Interest. There is enough credit to be generously shared, and, in fact, it generally is shared generously. In any event, Ex–Friends is autobiographical, and it is in the nature of autobiography that you tell the piece of the story that is yours, which need not fit neatly the pieces belonging to others.

I have somewhat less sympathy for Brookhiser’s second caveat. In the book Podhoretz says that his life, and maybe the life of the country, is the poorer for not having such an intense community of intellectual exchange as the Family, "a center around which we can gather and in which, whether through collaboration or competition, agreement or dissension, we can deepen and refine our thinking." Brookhiser comments: "Is this true? Podhoretz does not make the case. Most of the Family members were critics, not creators; the currents of political and artistic life flowed around them, not through them, and to the extent they made a contribution, Podhoretz often believes (as in the cases of Ginsberg and Mailer) that it was pernicious." Is that true? While the around–not–through bit is nicely put, it implies a dubious antithesis between the critical and creative. Lionel Trilling’s reflections on "the liberal imagination" told us much about how we live and think about how we live, while Arendt on the origins of totalitarianism made sense of a Cold War that held the world in thrall for almost half a century. They were arguments that resulted in sensibilities and ways of thinking that were not there before the arguments were made, and that, it seems to me, counts as creativity.

Many currents flow into what is today’s conservatism. One is marked by the signposts of Taft–Buckley–Goldwater–Reagan. Another, called neoconservatism until it merged with the mainstream, had its source in the Old Left of the 1930s, where left and right were defined by what kind of Marxist you were. Some of us who are now called conservatives were not part of either. Living in New York, I was keenly aware of both. When I broke ranks with the left in the early ’70s, I began to write regularly for both National Review and Commentary. Writing for National Review had the feel of consorting with the right; writing for Commentary had the feel of—if I may be permitted the academic jargon—problematizing the left. But that was a long time ago. In 1989, when I was rudely ejected from my misalliance with another current of conservatism represented by the Rockford Institute, the support of both National Review and Commentary was immediate and unqualified. More recently, in 1996 when this journal pointedly addressed judicial usurpation in a way that raised the question of the legitimacy of the political order as it presently functions, Commentary reacted with alarm to the suggestion that all polities and parties are subject to transcendent moral judgment. "I didn’t become a conservative," Norman Podhoretz wrote in distancing himself from our heresy, "in order to be a radical." But we did not become ex–friends.

Factional gyrations and clashes across the ideological spectrum will likely continue to the end of time. Ex–Friends brilliantly, and sometimes poignantly, captures a moment that cannot be again but has importantly influenced this moment and others still to be. It was a very New York moment and a very Jewish moment, and is not of least significance because for the first time a New York Jewish moment played a large part in redefining America’s intellectual culture. America, it has been observed, is so large and so various that almost any generalization made about it is amply supported by the evidence. It is a nation of many currents—political, intellectual, artistic. Some of the currents of greatest interest flowed through, not around, the world described by Norman Podhoretz in Ex–Friends. I think I already mentioned that it is also a great read.

The Death of a Pioneer

Oscar Cullman has died, at age ninety–six at his home in Chamonix, France. That the name is not more widely known today is a pity. A Lutheran, he was one of the great New Testament scholars and ecumenical spirits of the century. He held a number of professorships, chiefly at the University of Basel and University of Paris, and was an ecumenical observer at all four sessions of the Second Vatican Council. Long before and after Giovanni Battista Martini became Pope Paul VI, he and Cullman were in intense and sympathetic conversation. I suppose that, were I to name one book that launched me into serious concern about church–state relations, it would be Cullman’s splendid little book of 1956, The State in the New Testament.

In the late 1980s, shortly before I entered into full communion with the Catholic Church, Professor Cullman and I had an exchange on his views regarding the future of ecumenism as "communion in diversity." Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger and others were and are much taken with Cullman’s argument that the confessional divisions of the sixteenth century are the work of God’s "left hand," and the resulting differences must somehow be given the opportunity to play themselves out rather than being "negotiated away" in ecumenical dialogue. It is a subtle argument, and Cullman was unhappy when I wrote in an article that it reflected a certain ecumenical "disillusionment." In July 1989, he wrote me: "But of course I am of the opinion that the origin and existence of the various confessions is not only a misfortune, that it is not only ‘division’ and destruction of unity, but that it also signifies a working toward the good in the divine plan for unity and that in diversification the Holy Spirit is aiming at unity in accordance with the New Testament. . . . No! It does not arise out of disillusionment, but rather out of a deep belief and hope in ecumenism which has not let me go for the past sixty years. Disillusionment arises rather from a false ecumenism which I fight against."

Oscar Cullman was engaged in ecumenical dialogue with Orthodox and Roman Catholic theologians decades before the term "ecumenical dialogue" came into fashion, and he was much later to turn away from what he thought that fashion had become. He protested my saying he was disillusioned, but he did begin to speak of the actualization of Christian unity in more eschatological tones. Then and now a problem with his idea that the confessional differences could, in the mysterious workings of God’s left hand, be instrumental to unity is that today’s heirs of the confessions coming out of the sixteenth–century division, notably Lutheranism and Calvinism, are not very confessional or, if confessional, not very interested in unity. In Europe, the United States, and elsewhere, it seems the Protestant confessions have played themselves out, although not in the way that Cullman hoped.

If, however, full communion is Christ’s will for his Church, and it surely is, then Oscar Cullman was certainly right to emphasize that it will be achieved by Him and not by our ecumenical schemes. Christian unity is his work before it is ours, which, of course, is all the more reason to make it ours. Thinking about these and many other questions, I have the sense that the community of reflection is now diminished by the absence of Oscar Cullman. But then I think again and recognize that, in the fuller communion he now enjoys, please God, he is more present to us than ever before. Requiescat in pace.

While We’re At It

Sources: James Turner on the evangelical mind, Commonweal, January 15, 1999 and Christianity Today on "The New Theologians," February 8, 1999. The Dying of the Light reviewed in Commonweal, January 15, 1999. Sonia Arrison on governmental use of charities, National Post, December 30, 1998. Ex–Friends reviewed by Richard Brookhiser, New York Times Book Review, February 21, 1999.

While We’re At It: On Oklahoma, Tulsa World, November 29, 1998. On survey by Lutheran Brotherhood, Religion Watch, December 1998. On Kissinger tapes, New York Times, January 10, 1999. Midge Decter on "What Are Little Boys Made Of?" in Commentary, December 1998. Ronald Radosh on "Red Diaper Rash" in Heterodoxy, November 1998 and Stephen Schwartz on Red Diapers, Wall Street Journal, February 10, 1999. Camille Paglia on gay culture, Salon Magazine, June 23, 1998. On gay Marine who acted in porno films, New York Times, February 4, 1999. On New Jersey welfare cap, America, January 16–23, 1999. Paul R. McHugh on "Dying Made Easy," Commentary, February 1999. James K. Fitzpatrick on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Wanderer, January 21, 1999. On Orlando and evangelicals, Christianity Today, February 8, 1999. On "Faith’s Benefits," Christian Century, January 27, 1999. On ban of C. S. Lewis book at Dartmouth, Christianity Today, February 8, 1999. On churches in Cuba, Christianity Today, February 8, 1999. Joseph Collison on sex education, New Oxford Review, January 1999. Walter Shapiro on Bill Clinton’s popularity, New Republic, February 1, 1999. Frank Rich on "The White Panthers," New York Times, February 6, 1999. Death of a Salesman reviewed in New York Times, February 8, 1999. On Pope John Paul II’s visit to America, World, February 6, 1999. Archbishop Edwin O’Brien on bombing Iraq, Catholic World Report, February 1999. On Bishop George Lynch and Brother Christopher Moscinski, Catholic World Report, February 1999. On Ted Turner and Paul Ehrlich, Catholic League press release, February 17 & 18, 1999. Appointment in Rome, reviewed by Gary MacEoin, National Catholic Reporter, February 26, 1999. On the Pope and the death penalty, National Review, February 22, 1999. Gabriel Garcia Marquez on Clinton’s only enemy, Salon, February 1, 1999. On the ten billion–year–old supernova, Wall Street Journal, December 24, 1998. On bats in Britain, Wall Street Journal, December 28, 1998.